Category Archives: Other Technology

Other Technology

A new Kickstarter project: AirJamz

Here is a fun new product for you: Zivix, a company in Minnesota (and the creators of the JamStik and the PUC) have started their latest crowd funded project: AirJamz.  Simply put, AirJamz is wearable device that allows you to “air jam” and have an iOS or Android device follow those movements.  Zivix showed off the device at SXSW this past winter, and it was a hit.

  
In terms of music education, this isn’t a device that you are going to directly use in your classrooms.  However–it does have the potential as a product for reward days, music therapy, and some other uses that I haven’t thought of yet.  

What if they could tweak their app to allow for the training of conductors–direct a symphony orchestra or choir from the AirJamz?  That could revolutionize the instruction of conducting.  

Zivix isn’t a music education company–it is a company that makes products so that music is fun for all people.  It is just fortunate that Zivix products often “creep” into the world of music education–I wouldn’t want to teach a guitar class without a JamStik.  

It is easy to see how this product would be popular with a lot of people.  After all, if you are willing to drop the money on Guitar Hero–why not AirJamz?  I believe that, like their other products, Zivix will provide free software which works with the device (which sounds a lot like Apple’s strategy of providing at least basic versions of the software with the purchase of hardware).

  
There are a lot of things I don’t know about the AirJamz at this point, such as how long batteries last, if it could be potentially used as a step-tracker, and if there is any chance to make a (paid) Apple Watch app in place of buying the AirJamz hardware.  However, the price point of AirJamz (and their small speaker, MiniJamz) is extremely affordable with the KickStarter.  I like this company a lot, and it will be fun to see what comes from this device.  I encourage you to support their efforts and to join the KickStarter campaign.

  

Asus Chromebook Flip

Okay. I did it. I went and bought an open box Asus Chromebook Flip today–as well as a Chromecast.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to present a rather broad presentation about music education and technology as it can be applied to Orchestra with MNSOTA (Minnesota String and Orchestra Teachers Assoication). As I often do with “broad” presentations, I spent a bit of time talking about SAMR and form factor in my presentation. I find myself often having to describe why Chromebooks are not a great fit for music education. On the other hand, I remain open to new technology, and I talked about how the Chromebook Flip might be a better fit.

Throughout the past day and a half, I spent my free time pondering Chromebooks. As I have written on a regular basis, the Chromebook is winning in education, and as time goes on, there are more solutions for music. For example:

1) Did you know that there are now two HTML Music Notation programs? One is the long-established Noteflight (now owned by Hal Leonard). The other is a French start-up, Flat.io. Both will work on a Chromebook.

2) Did you know that in addition to SmartMusic’s scheduled arrival to the Chromebook in the Fall of 2016, there is already a Chromebook-friendly music assessment program called PracticeFirst (from http://www.musicfirst.com)?

3) Did you know that there is a dedicated HTML 5 sheet music viewer, NeoScores, which will receive some major updates in the next 3 months?

4) Did you know that there is a Web MIDI standard in development, which will (finally) allow Chromebooks to be used with USB MIDI instruments? (See this link) Web MIDI is already in Chromebooks–there is a lack of apps that utilize it so far.

5) Did you know that most web-based programs work on a Chromebook?

6) Did you know that Chromecast now works with the entire desktop, and that you can purchase AirParrot to show a Chromebook over an AppleTV? Chromecast is $35, and I am not sure how much a HDMI to VGA adapter costs for the device. In the past, my Kanex ATV Pro (converts HMDI to VGA for Apple TV) did not work with my Chromecast. That said, Chromecast mirroring is “laggy.” Whereas sound can sometimes lag when I mirror with an iPad, the video and sound both lag on Chromecast–even with the latest version of the device.

7) And most importantly, did you know that there is now a Chromebook that folds in half and can be used as a tablet (in truth, there are two such devices right now–the Asus Flip and the Acer R11 Convertible)?

I now have the Asus model in my possession. After (Minnesota) taxes, it came to $239. That’s less than 1/3 of the cost of my iPad Air 2 (which I maxxed out with LTE and 128GB of storage). On a more comparable note, the entry model iPad Air 2 (at 64GB–don’t ever buy a 16GB device again) is $599. So the Asus Flip was less than 1/2 the price of the “base” iPad model that I would consider buying. I purposely bought the Flip with 2GB of RAM because that is what schools would buy if they bought them (they would not spend the extra $50 for two additional GB of RAM).

Asus Chromebook Flip, left; iPad Air 2, right

I have been spending the evening with the Chromebook, and overall, I am impressed. The Asus Flip is very close to being a solution for music education. If money wasn’t an object, I wouldn’t choose the Flip over an iPad; but if your school has a choice between buying a Dell or Acer clamshell model or the Flip, I would encourage the purchase of the Flip for use in music and other non-typing classes.

I’m not making the claim that the Flip is more durable than other models…I would be terrified of dropping it, and it doesn’t seem like you can use a case with it without impacting its ability to flip. It is significantly smaller than my old Samsung 303 Chromebook, and the screen is only slightly smaller than my iPad. The Flip has a 10″ (diagonal) screen, but is in a widescreen mode versus the iPad’s 4:3 mode. Therefore, the Flip’s screen is only 5″ wide (roughly) while the iPad is nearly 6″ wide. The screen of the Flip is nice–most Chromebooks have low quality screens, whereas the Flip’s is clear. It doesn’t compare to the iPad’s retina screen, but then again, the iPad costs two to three times as much. If you didn’t buy the Flip for the flipping, it would be worth it for the screen versus other Chromebooks (other than Google’s top of the line Pixel model). If you are a musician wanting to view music on a device, and the iPad is too small, skip the Flip, unless you are going to use a MusicXML music viewer such as NeoScores, where notation can be instantly resized. If you need a bigger screen, wait for the iPad Pro in about a month.

The Flip weighs about 1 pound 15 ounces, whereas my iPad Air 2, in its case, weighs about 1 pound 8 ounces. Most tech journalists would complain about the difference of a half a pound, but for most users, you could deal with it. The most awkward thing about the Flip is holding it with the keys in the back…it is a feeling that takes getting used to. The keyboard itself is disabled in this mode, and the touchscreen overlay (something I suspect Asus put together above Google’s operating system) works surprisingly well–far better than some Windows devices that I have used. Asus should get this right, as they have made many Android and Windows tablets, convertibles, and even Flip devices in the past.

One oddity about the Flip is that it has a unique charger, when most devices are shipping with USB charging capability of some kind. Having a proprietary charger in today’s mobile world is a strange choice for a new device. Other than its unique charging port, the Flip has two LEDs (battery charging and power), a volume rocker, a power button (on the side of the device), a headphone jack, a MicroSD slot, two USB ports, and a mini HDMI out port. I wish they would spend the extra $3 and ship these devices with a mini HDMI to regular HDMI adapter.

The negatives of the Flip, with the exception of the solution of the form factor issue, remain the sameas other Chromebooks. As a whole, there are not a lot of quality apps for the device, and nearly all of the quality apps require a subscription for the best features. While I love what Noteflight, Flat.io, NeoScores, and MusicFirst are doing by creating a number of quality apps, many schools simply cannot afford a subscription (for the record, Noteflight and NeoScores have free versions, and Flat.io is still free). I think that developers deserve to be paid, even if schools are too cheap to pay for software. The issue is that when your school district has selected a device for the primary reason of cost savings and streching their dollar, they aren’t putting aside money for music departments to buy music specific apps–and to do so annually (In comparison, on the iPad, generally, apps are “buy once”). Other than NeoScores, I cannot find a PDF web app that allows for horizontal page turns and allows annotation. And I do not believe that you can add a scanner so that an app such as NotateMe’s PhotoScore (in-app purchase) could be developed/created.

Samsung 303 Chromebook, left; Asus Flip Chromebook, right

That said, we’re almost there with this device. If programs can establish themselves with Web MIDI, and NeoScores works out the bugs, Google incorporates more of Android into Chrome, and Chromecast mirroring can become less “laggy,” the Flip is just about the perfect form factor. Teaching in a 1:1, I no longer think you want to distribute a device where students can detach a keyboard. I used to think this was a good idea; but having seen what students do to iPad cases, I fear what they would do to a Chromebook detachable keyboard. As a result, a device where the keyboard folds back might very well be the device that can work for all subjects without compromise. We’re almost there–and the remaining issues might be worked out before this version of the Flip reaches its end-of-life. I wouldn’t tell you to go buy a Flip today–it still has most of the compromises of any Chromebook.

In closing, I think the iPad still holds the greatest value for education (music and otherwise) with available apps, accessories, mirroring, and MDM control (particularly with Casper by JAMF). There is a strong chance that your decision makers may not see the value in a device that costs two to three times more than a Chromebook. In that case, advocate–at the least–for this device. You should never buy a device for what it might do, but there is enough promise around the corner that many additional uses could be present on the Flip in the next six to eighteen months. I can’t promise that, but it seems likely. The worst possible scenario is that your decision makers choose a clamshell device that won’t ever fit easily into your music room. Try to educate those decision makers that there are better options on the market that either do work or potentially will work better for all subjects in the future.

P.S.  The animated GIF at the top of the screen was recorded with my iPhone 6S with the new “Live Pictures” feature, and then converted to an animated GIF with the app Live GIF (link).  Inserting it into the blog required saving the image OFF of the iPad and then uploading it via the web on another device (incidentally, the Asus Flip) as iOS doesn’t play well with animated GIFs (or more specifically, not yet).

A review from MusicEdMagic of Practice First

Chad Criswell, Iowa music educator and also editor for many of NAfME's articles on technology in music education, has run MusicEdMagic.com for years. I have always enjoyed his work–both in NAfME publications and on MusicEdMagic.

He recently posted a video review of the upcoming PracticeFirst program, which is coming from MusicFirst this fall. Ultimately, it is a green note/red note program that is priced at a low rate ($6 per student) and is multi-platform. Chad put the preview version of the program through its paces….with his daughter!

http://youtu.be/peRDouCbzfE

I love the video–Chad is articulate and friendly (as always) and it is fun to see his daughter collaborating, even with a sticking 3rd valve on the trumpet.

Chad mentions that iOS devices don't run the preview…and this is correct. They are hoping to have an iPad version in the fall. Chad also mentioned that the program requires a minimum of 100 subscribers, which could be problematic for small schools that don't have 100 students in music! I need to check with MusicFirst about that, but I would be extremely surprised if they didn't have a solution for smaller schools. And let's be honest…although we have many big schools in the Midwest, you are as likely to have a small school as a large school when you live in this part of the country.

If you aren't following MusicEdMagic, you should add it to your list of regular sites (or to your RSS feed), and I am going to look forward to future video reviews from Chad!

 

S-Cubed: A New Approach to Sight Singing

Raise your hand if you have figured out how to teach your students to sight sing. If you are a band or orchestra teacher, don't consider yourself out of this discussion. My high school band teacher was also a singer, and his philosophy was, “If you can sing it, you can play it.” In a perfect world, band and orchestra kids would learn how to sight sing, too, as a part of total musicianship (this is why you had to take sight singing and ear training in college).

But here's the problem with sight singing: there is a disconnect between how we sight sing, and then how we actually learn music. Teachers that “teach” sight singing do so as a disconnected exercise from any other part of the rehearsal. I have been guilty of this, too. Over my years as a teacher, I had mixed commitments to teaching sight singing until a professor on my doctoral committee asked, “What are you doing to teach music literacy in the form of sight singing, dictation, and composition.” At the time, I wasn't doing very much, and my committment changed. Since that time, sight singing has been a part of what I focus on.

I have tried a number of approaches, including reading off the board (my preferred method, as all eyes are up and you can see who isn't participating), using exercises from Melodia, Bruce Phelps Sight Reading Method, and 90 Days to Better Sight Reading, using SmartMusic as a class, and even teaching complete songs via solfége. At best, kids tolerated my efforts, at worst they hated them.

This past fall, I had the chance to work with a Minnesota school district that had adopted a 1:1 Chromebook initative and wanted an outsider's perspective on how those devices could be used and what other resources could be used. In that process, the middle school choir director talked about S-Cubed, a sight singing method devised by Dale Duncan, and how that methodology was not only working with her students, but also helped with discipline in her classes.

Knowing my situation (see my last two posts), I figured it was worth a try. Dale offers the S-Cubed series on “Teachers Pay Teachers” and occasionally offers sale prices. I bought his entire series, and waited for a time in the year to begin working with it. I need to let you know that I am not receiving any financial compensation for mentioning S-Cubed. I am mentioning it because it works.

When you buy S-Cubed, you receive files of all the various PowerPoint lessons Dale has created to teach sight singing. Dale has created many (short) YouTube videos demonstrating how to teach concepts and sharing additional thoughts. He currently works in Georgia where sight singing is still a part of the adjudication of choral contests. His choirs “kick butt” in this process every year. After years of struggling with teaching sight singing, Dale observed other teachers and came up with a process that worked for him, and he is now offering his process to other teachers.

When you see Dale on his YouTube videos, you may be tempted to think, “I'm not Dale. This isn't going to work for me.” What I am sure that Dale would tell you is the same thing I have said to my student teachers–if you try to be me, you are going to fail. To succeed in this job, you have to know who YOU are and to be true to yourself, working through your strengths and learning how to cope with your weaknesses. If you buy S-Cubed, you have to present it AS YOURSELF, and not as Dale. If you do this, it will work for you.

At the core of Dale's process are two things: gameification and technology. He uses available technology (in his case, an Interactive White Board and PowerPoint), and we all know how students (heck, even adults) love playing games. Sight reading is turned into a game (at first), which leads to a systematic process that enables students to sight read without hating the process. In the process, classroom management also becomes easier.

I began using S-Cubed in March, as we have taken a period off mid-year to work on other non-singing projets (composition). Over the past 3 months, we have covered the first five lessons of S-Cubed, while there are 27 complete lessons. I have personally worked through Lesson 6, but even so, I have only used 1/3 of a year's worth of lessons with my class (remember, my classes are on an A/B format, whereas Dale's classes are open enrollment but meet daily).

I don't want to get into the specifics of what you do in each lesson, as Dale's process walks you through every step of the journey, and truthfully, the man deserves to be paid for what he has developed. What I can tell you is that S-Cubed is working, and I can't wait to start my 6th Grade students on Lesson 1, and to pick up with Lesson 6 with my 7th and 8th grade students next year.

Athough Dale includes PowerPoints (which also act as your manual) for each day (there are several days in each lesson), I have been re-creating content to use on my mirrored iPad screen with Keynote. I like to use Keynote's “laser pointer” as I walk students through the tasks which keeps me from signing (yes, signing) with them as many students used to watch me as I signed solfége instead of watching the projected screen. I also like to use APS Tuning Trainer to help my students develop sensitivity to pitch. And I like to use other resouces for quizzes, such as Google Forms (and perhaps Schoology in the future) for assessments (instant grading). I am placing a lot of hope in PracticeFirst next year (at $6 per student) to assess student sight singing as well. I might also have students record themselves on video (we shall see).

What you are going to see with S-Cubed is a systematic approach that exposes kids to solfége names and hand symbols, and then gradually puts those names and hand symbols INTO THE MUSIC. The hand symbols won't be “just” for elementary music teachers with a Kodály background any more. And if you do have elementary teachers that teach with the Kodály hand symbols, let them know you are continuing the work.

Here's the deal…this system is worth its weight in gold, and could be EASILY modified for elementary school or high school (if you choose this method, your high schools would be foolish not to continue using it), or for band/orchestra as well. The complete first method is currently selling for $150, but there are occasionally some sales, and there is no guarantee that prices won't go up, either. You can also buy individual lessons or smaller lesson packs if you don't want to commit to the entire series. Or you can download the free pack just to find out more about the method. Dale also blogs at inthemiddlewithmrd1.blogspot.com, and is in the process of developing S-Cubed year 2.

In closing, one of my major tools during the second half of the year has been S-Cubed. Kids buy into it, even stoic 8th grade students that are “too cool.” if you start this at the beginning of the year, your kids will be sight reading before you know it, and you will have massively changed the climate in your program.

Monoprice and Pro Audio

One of my favorite sources for cables and miscellaneous audio products has been Monoprice (www.monoprice.com). I finally realized–today–that they are into all kinds of pro audio, including guitars and MIDI controllers. Most of my personal pro audio needs have been met through Carvin products, or by simply calling Full Compass Audio in Madison. And if I need local help (Minnesota), I go to Metro Sound and Lighting.

Carvin has traditionally been inexpensive but rugged. From my experience with other Monoprice products, I bet that Monoprice will often beat other vendors with their product–IF–it happens to be in stock.

I have used Monoprice HDMI cables, VGA cables, lightning cables, iPad cases, and more. Everything is inexpensive, but it all works. So it might be worth checking out Monoprice for other pro audio needs.

 

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